New EJC head: We can put pressure on Syria

Amid concerns in Israel over increasing Russian aid to Iran and Syria, the new president of the European Jewish Congress said on Monday he didn't think the organization would have too much of an impact on Moscow - but could put pressure on Damascus. "I don't think we can influence this issue," Moshe Kantor told a press conference in Jerusalem. Asked by The Jerusalem Post if the new EJC leadership planned to speak out against the actions by Russia - whose Jewish community is a member of the umbrella organization - Kantor replied: "The contracts are being executed now, but were signed a few years ago and we're not seeing any new contracts now." In addition, he said, "Russia has officially declared that these are just protective [weapons]," he said. Pressed on the point, however, Kantor said that European Jews were not so helpless in facing any Syrian attempt to send Russian-made missiles to Hizbullah. "If Syria plans to sell [the missiles] to Hizbullah, to terrorists, that would be a problem," he declared. And, moments after claiming helplessness in the face of Russian sales to Syria, Kantor said European Jewry had "lots of ways to bring pressure on Syria. We are 42 communities, and many leaders have some influence with their governments." The EJC leadership trip, which includes German and French Jewish leaders, has met with President Shimon Peres and Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, and is slated to meet with Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni and Diaspora Affairs Minister Isaac Herzog this week. Among the topics of discussion will be European Jewish activism over the Iranian nuclear threat, Jewish identity education, Holocaust commemoration - Olmert has promised to attend next year's Kristallnacht commemoration in Berlin - and other political and diplomatic issues. During the months leading up to Kantor's late-June election to the EJC presidency, his opponents, among them former Russian senator and oligarch now living in Israel Leonid Nevzlin and incumbent EJC president Pierre Besnainou, warned that his connections with the Russian government would prevent his criticizing their activities. "When the president of the EJC is close to the Kremlin, an institution that is retreating into dark times and does not respect European democracy," read a particularly harsh statement released by Nevzlin, "it is unreasonable to think he can contribute to Jewish development in Europe and connections with Israel." However, said a Kantor spokesman, the Russian-Swiss-Israeli billionaire simply prefers to operate quietly behind the scenes rather than display his activism in public, where it is less effective. Kantor also promised at the press conference that the EJC's activism in the European Union, for which Besnainou was praised in Israel, "will continue as it was before." The EJC has established an office in Brussels.